The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
Four human figures can be distinguished in the painting 'The War' by the Dutch artist Constant. One is raising his arms up to heaven, while another grabs hold of his head and heart. In the third figure it is mainly the head that is visible. He is not much more than a ghostly figure with his eyes shut. There is a child hanging limply in front of him, presumably dead. The air is a dark reddish brown. The earth is coarsely painted in black and grey. The figures are depicted in a childish naïve way, an extremely large hand in the foreground, while the arm by the lilac figure behind it is much too long. The faces consist predominantly of eyes and a mouth.
Constant deliberately painted in a way that looks childish and in this way he wanted to reject the established aesthetic views of western art. In 1948 he published a manifesto in the German “Reflex”, an edition by the Dutch Experimental Group. This group of young artists rejected both abstract and bourgeois realistic art, which they saw as having become bloodless and lacking in content, and therefore as an obstacle to true creativity. Constant said: “A painting is not a structure of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a scream, a person or everything together.”
In 1948 the Cobra group was founded in Paris uniting writers and artists from different countries: the Dane Asger Jorn, the Belgian Dotremont and the Dutch artists, Appel, Constant and Corneille. Imaginary creatures and animals represented with powerful brushstrokes, often in bright colours, were a popular subject for the Cobra painters. The creatures which can be seen in Constant’s paintings often have fearful or aggressive expressions. However, his paintings changed after 1950, when his aim was to spread a social message and he began to paint the horrors of war. He did not paint the fighting itself, but the consequences of it, such as the victims, scorched earth, traces of destruction. 'The War' is a painting dating from that period. In this work Constant combines an immediately recognisable message with an experimental method of painting.
Does this page contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.